Salt Marshes of the Ribble Estuary

Being a shallow estuary, vast areas of salt marsh have formed within the outer most parts of the Ribble Estuary. These include some of the largest of their kind within the UK and led to the creation of the Ribble Estuary National Nature Reserve in 1978, one of the best places in Britain to enjoy a wide range of estuary birds and other wildlife.

The salt marshes have developed on the landward side of extensive sandbanks and mud flats, and are exposed for long periods of time between tides. This has enabled salt tolerant plants to grow and form extensive grassy swards, which help to trap further amounts of silt and thus raise the general level of the marsh even more.

They are bisected by a complex array of drainage channels (i.e. creeks and gutters) and are consequently dangerous to walk across since incoming tides can cut one off quickly.

The salt marshes are extensively grazed by cattle and are important for wildlife, most conspicuously their internationally significant populations of wildfowl and wading birds which use them as feeding grounds and roost sites respectively.

The most abundant species of plants that may be found growing on areas of salt marsh within the confines of the Ribble Estuary include Red Fescue, salt marsh grass and Cord grass, with patches of Thrift, Sea Aster, Sea Purslane, and Common-scurvy grass on ungrazed areas of salt marsh or the sides of gutters and creeks, which grazing animals are unable to reach.

The extensive areas of grazed salt marsh are internationally important for their populations of wintering and passage migrant birds. They provide grazing for wildfowl such as wigeon, pink-footed goose and whooper swan.

There are also significant and increasing areas of ungrazed salt marsh, which provide an abundance of seeds for small birds like skylarks and linnets and wild ducks such as teal, mallard and pintail and rich hunting grounds for small mammals and birds of prey.

In addition the saltmarshes provide safe roosting sites for wading birds such as oystercatcher, golden and grey plovers, lapwing, dunlin, redshank, bar and black - tailed godwits, curlew and knot, especially during the period of high water. The salt marshes of the Ribble Estuary are also used as a nesting ground by one of the largest populations of breeding redshank in the UK, whilst nesting common terns and herring, lesser and greater black-backed gulls and black-headed gulls are nationally important too.

 

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